Rule quirks mean 1st wrestler down or out sometimes wins

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

In January 1972, then yokozuna Kitanofuji (upper position) was declared the winner, and komusubi Takanohana the loser, because Kitanofuji’s hand touching down first was determined to be “kabaite.”

By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterIt’s easy to determine which of two sumo wrestlers wins or loses. A wrestler is declared the loser if part of his body, except the bottoms of his feet, touches the sand on the dohyo ring before his opponent, or if part of his body goes out of the dohyo first.

In principle, sumo only defines how a wrestler loses. It’s interesting to note that sumo rules do not specify what actions make someone the winner of a bout.

Parts of the body, of course, include the wrestlers’ hair, which they wear in topknots. According to the Japan Sumo Association’s rules, a wrestler loses if his hair touches the surface of the dohyo. However, the rules also stipulate, “If a wrestler’s hair touches the sand an instant earlier than his opponent while he is toppling the opponent, he has not lost the bout.”

If both wrestlers are attempting waza — offensive techniques — against each other, the wrestler whose topknot touches the sand first is deemed the loser. If one of the two is only defensive and loses control of his body’s movements — a situation called “shinitai” — the wrestler who was on the offensive is the winner, even if his topknot touches the sand an instant earlier.

There is an exception to the rules about part of a wrestler’s body going out of the dohyo. One example is tsuridashi — lifting out the opponent.

When a wrestler grips his opponent’s mawashi belt, lifts his body up, and carries the opponent’s body out of the dohyo while both the opponent’s feet remain up in the air, the wrestler is not declared the loser even if his foot goes out of the dohyo earlier.

It’s called “okuriashi” when the offensive wrestler’s foot touches down outside the dohyo and he then puts his opponent’s body down outside the dohyo.

But the rules stipulate that even if both the opponent’s feet remain up in the air over the dohyo, the offensive wrestler loses if he moves back and steps out of dohyo in the direction of his heels. In other words, if the offensive wrestler steps backward and his foot touches the sand outside the dohyo, he has lost.

There is also a special rule called “kabaite.” When two sumo wrestlers continue grappling with each other and fall to the ground while keeping hold of each other’s bodies, if one hand of the wrestler in the upper position touches the surface of the dohyo a moment earlier, he is not declared the loser.

The kabaite rule was established to encourage the wrestler in the upper position to reach out his hand, to try to prevent the opponent in the lower position from being injured.

In sumo, there are 82 kinds of decisive actions such as yorikiri (forcing out), oshidashi (pushing out) and uwatenage (arm throw with an outside grip).

However, these are merely the names of techniques. Judgments about whether a wrestler wins or loses are made after it is confirmed that the wrestler’s body touched down in the dohyo or his body went out of the raised ring.

In short, judgments must be based on confirmation that one of the wrestlers was clearly defeated.

Gyoji referees in the dohyo declare the winner only after confirming which of the two wrestlers was defeated.

Sumo seems to be a very different world than other martial arts in this respect.

— Miki is a sumo expert.Speech

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